Lost in computer mediated communication…

I recently had a text chat conversation with an online acquaintance of mine, a wonderful fellow who shall not be named. My perception of him was shaken, however, when he concluded our spirited exchange about how to manage complexity in visual representations with the word “bye.”

Only that he did not, in fact, write “bye.” I was about to get comfortable for some football watching1 and completely shellshocked by his mastery of German football mockery – not to mention the fact that we never discussed football or my affliction to the game. Talk about a non sequitur.

He wrote “Freilos!” which is a rather popular (among fans of the beautiful game) German reference to a cup fixture, where one team is deemed enough of a pushover to claim that the game need not be played in the first place.

And if you, my dear readers, are as puzzled as I was, chances are you are either not a native speaker of English, as am I, or not a sports fan. Because the solution why my conversation partner chose this strangest of greetings is that computers are stupid. Stupider still, if algorithms have to operate out of context.

Because when entering the word “bye” into Google translate, “Freilos” is the first hit that the machine spits out for German. Whoever programs an algorithm to rank an obscure sports term above the most commonly used English signal to end a conversation, I take my hats2 off to you master prankster. The payoff may be rare, but, oh so sweet.

Google translation: bye

It just so happens that “bye” is a homograph. Never send a machine to do a human’s job.

  1. The beautiful game. You play the ball with your feet. 

  2. For emphasis I did wear two of them prior to composing this blog entry. 

As you can see I’ve experimented with gifs recently. Their most debilitating limitation lies in the way they encode color, so I tried to mitigate that problem by introducing a halftone effect that breaks up the gradients a bit.

However, they do allow for transparency, which makes them useful in a lot of scenarios where I want to use a sophisticated (if gradient-free) animation. Powerpoint comes to mind, where the transparent gif becomes something like a poor guy’s (or gal’s) green screen.

I prepare an animation in Motion1 and export it as a movie with a transparent background. From there I use a gif converter to create a gif in the size I want and import the gif to powerpoint.2 Thankfully the 2010 version unlike its predecessors allows for the animation settings of the gif to prevail, making a looping animation on a slide possible.

Check out the resulting effect for yourself and download the free Christmas Card that I designed for BrightCarbon. You can experience the animated Christmas motif in its full glory. In the true Christmas Spirit we made it a competition, so please do vote for me while you’re at it. The winner gets Christmas Eve off. Or at least out of the office at six. Ish. 3

  1. Or After Effects, Blender or whatever animation software you use. 

  2. If you want to use an animated gif on Tumblr, make sure that it is less than an MB in size or else it will have its animation stripped. Grrr. 

  3. Seriously, go download my file and help me. Tell all your friends, too. Also tell the people you don’t like. Pretty please! 

The Story of Animation by David Tart on Vimeo

I don’t feel like ranting today, so here’s a little happy fun time feelgood animation about, well, animation. And storytelling. It’s a tad narrow in focus (that’s advertisement for you) but as I said, I’m not in the mood for ranting. Enjoy. We’ll look into the functional properties of animation as a communication tool some other time.

One thing you as a presenter are probably looking to achieve is to make a lasting impression on your audience. Give them something meaningful to take away from the occasion.

I believe I found the expression of Something They’ll Always Remember through Nancy Duarte who proposes you incorporate a moment of memorable surprise into your speech. This striking moment may serve as a focal point for watercooler talk and become a hook by which people will always be able to refer to your presentation.

Now, at science conferences many talks are rather dull, with scientists being quite preoccupied with gathering the data, rather than honing their skills of presenting them live. Yet, the greatest impact of a S.T.A.R. moment that I know dates back to one such conference, albeit somewhat inadvertently as far as I can gather from the records. It has, in effect, entered the history books of scientific communication in general and urology in particular.

What to take away from the epochal Brindley Lecture? Breaching social norms can very much create a moment the audience will always remember. Planning for an audience reaction and carefully considering their tolerance for contextual breach of norms, however, may help you decide where the element of surprise turns into an element of shock. There is too much of a good thing, even with STARs.

The link will lead you to a memoir of the events that transpired on that fateful night in Las Vegas (no less!), published in the British Journal of Urology. Consider yourself warned…

Wish Upon a S.T.A.R. and the Brindley Lecture